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‘Rights’ of Illegal Immigrants

August 14, 2009

There is this news item on the BBC website reporting that more than a dozen Iraqi men had taken refuge in a church in Copenhagen, Denmark. The men were illegal immigrants. They had been there for some days and finally the police had to barge in while they were sleeping and forcibly take them away to a refugee camp. It is very likely that these men will be deported back to Iraq.

A section of the Danish polity and society have expressed shock and distress at the ‘inhuman’ treatment of these illegal immigrants and it is believed that there is going to be a huge demonstration against the proposed deportation of these men.

While I have all the sympathy for the Iraqi’s I have never understood the oft heard ‘rights’ of illegal immigrants. Who are these people and why are they where they are. Is it their country? If not by what right do they demand anything at all? Throwing them in jail is no solution as their upkeep will again have to be borne by the state. A cheaper and a more practical solution is the one that the Danish government is employing – boarding them on to a flight to Baghdad, paying for their one way passage and making sure they do not come back.

As I said before I have all the sympathy for Iraqi’s. But what is most unpleasant is when a people descend on your country and start demanding things as their ‘right’. To begin with they have done something fundamentally illegal – entering a country without proper documents and then they start demanding things as a matter of right. They are on the wrong side of law and then they have the audacity to demand things from their hosts. This defies logic and is a criminal act. This is like someone forces himself into my house and then demands food and drinks as a matter of ‘right’.

Europe is full of such illegal immigrants – from Africa and from the Middle East and even from South Asia, including India. This must be discouraged and needs to be stopped. If we are talking about the rights of the people who have been wronged, there are countries that accept refugees from other countries on compassionate grounds and they have a set procedure for that. If there are people who want to immigrate as refugees they need to follow those guide lines and chances are that they will be accommodated if the host country finds they have a case. But to descend on a land and then to start demanding things as a matter of ‘right’ is atrocious. With Iraqi’s I admit again that I have a soft corner but that does not mean that they can flout the rules and make themselves guests of an unwilling host. The US has taken in a fair number of Iraqi’s as have some nations of Europe. But what do you do when there are people sneaking into another country and start living in ghettos that they have built on the fringes of many a European cities. The Paris riots some years ago were a case in point. There are many such cities that have a section of population that is staying illegally and they have become a burden, a nuisance for the people there. If the people of these war torn countries have their rights then the countries that they are descending on have a right too. This needs to be understood.

Here in India we have had a deluge from Bangladesh. But the story here is slightly different. Here it becomes that much more difficult to point the illegal immigrants because the color of their skin and their language is the same. They speak Bengali as do millions in West Bengal. They cross the long, porous Indo-Bangladesh border and then try and find work here in India. The situation has taken alarming proportions such that the demographics of the border provinces have changed. Many districts that had only a few percent of Muslim population now have Muslims as the majority. West Bengal and Assam are the most badly hit states. The problem has been there for long and there was a movement in Assam against these illegal immigrants sometime back. Riots have taken place and people have been killed in hundreds. It is almost impossible to fence the entire length of more than 4000 kilometers of Indo-Bangladesh border and the infiltration continues unabated. After a few years these illegal immigrants get a ration card made which is not too difficult and is a document that is the first step towards an Indian citizenship. The next step is to get their names on the electoral rolls. They then become bona fide Indian citizens. There is complicity between the political class and the immigrants and the politicians see them as a potential vote bank. The security of the country is being bartered away.  

The Bangladesh authorities refuse to acknowledge that there is any illegal immigration taking place from Bangladesh to India. They refuse to discuss the issue. India as it were, is a densely populated country and the burden of illegal immigration only adds to the problem. The demographic profile changing is another cause of concern that the political class across party lines refuse to acknowledge.

There is an effort by the government of India now to issue identity cards to Indian citizens. These will have a social security number and will be pretty comprehensive, it is being said. Nandan Nilekani, the former joint founder of the famous Infosys software company has been given the onerous task of getting this done. Imagine, issuing identity cards to a billion people many of whom are illiterate, poor and may not be able to pay for the hi-tech card that the government proposes. The Indian government is going to spend millions of dollars on this project. The attempt is to be able to identify the bona fide citizens from the illegal squatters.  I hope the government will have the will to deport those that are found to be foreigners. The parameters to identify legal Indian citizens from illegal intruders will need to be spelt out clearly. Clear bench marks will have to be set and it will need to be ensured that those guidelines are strictly followed. It is one huge project.

Whether it is here in India or anywhere across the world, the UNHCR needs to take steps to ensure that illegal movement of population is curtailed. Nations need to be sensitized to the need to take care of their citizens and ensure that their people do not enter another country illegally. If the poor and the displaced have a right, then so do those who are being intruded upon! Nations whose citizens are found to have entered illegally should then be fined and the cost of deportation should be borne by the country of origin of the illegal immigrants so that there is some accountability. This may help nations take better care of their citizens. While this may sound outlandish and cruel to some, such discipline now may avoid bloody conflicts in future. Slogans and phony ‘liberalism’ will just not do. Those who speak against immigrants are branded as ‘rightists’, ‘racists’ and what not. Such people are supposed to belong to the ultra right which may not be true at all. This is a very real problem and one that needs to be addressed in right earnest. It is better to be careful now than be sorry later.

Update 28th August, 2009: ‘Twelve hours after TIMES NOW brought the story of 64 Indians stranded in Cueta in Spain and facing deportation, there is word from the Spanish embassy. According to the Spanish embassy, the Spanish government will now explore the possibility of granting the men work permits to allow them to stay legally in Spain.

The Spanish embassy told TIMES NOW that the ambassador was very concerned about the Indians living in Spain and had been in touch with the union labour ministry. One option the embassy said was to get them work permits, particularly since they have been staying in Spain illegally for years. It is said that a work permit will allow them to live in Spain legally. All the Spanish government would now need is a verification certificate from the state government to clarify that the Indians had no police record. According to the embassy, the action could happen as early as in the next few weeks.’  Source: TIMES NOW (TV channel of the Times of India)

All I can say is that the Spanish government is starting a wrong precedence. These lads have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees to get to Morrocco and beyond through illegal means. Spain is showing benevolence when they need to act tough. These lads could have used the same money to educate themselves and find jobs or work on their land. They know no Spanish and will end up doing menial jobs – the kind of jobs that they would never have done here in India. This craze for going abroad chasing a mirage is a problem that needs to be tackled. Village after village in Punjab and Haryana are left with only the elders, the youngsters have all migrated to Europe or Canada or lately Australia. They have little knowledge of English and find themselves in an alien culture which they feel is hostile. These are not from impoverished families but are relatively well off. Spain would do these youngsters and their families good if they were to turn these 64 men back to India and make them pay the one way air ticket (maybe in instalments) so that they remember what they are up against next time they do any such crazy thing. Responsible channels like the TIMES NOW need to understand that they are doing these men no service by highlighting their misery. Such irresponsible, uneducated decisions must not be put up as a ‘human interest story’. This is no story. This gives a bad name to the country. India has enough to offer these young men were they to strive just half as much as they have living in jungles for months on end in a foreign land.

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